Academic common room
Will academics look down on a gap year between a master's and PhD?
xrosie · 09/11/2019 22:33
I finished my master's in September with the intention of having a bit of time off and applying for PhDs this autumn to start next year and then, hopefully with a PhD secured, apply for some retail work to save money in the mean time. However, I'm feeling quite anxious that I have made a bad decision. I think these feelings are also being brought up because I am meeting up with my master's friends next weekend and they have all been busy - either with full-time working or having started their PhDs last month.
I have had four years of undergraduate and a master's all consecutively and I think I am burnt out. I wanted to take a gap year between my undergraduate and master's but didn't, mainly because I had a long summer (4 months) to relax before starting the master's. In contrast, my master's has been 12 intense months with it peaking over the summer as I did my research project.
I have gotten a first class undergraduate and now a distinction in my master's and I have worked hard for it and my grades show that. I definitely feel like I can cope with stress well and would cope with a PhD. However, I have had periods of intense stress during my time at university and have suffered from panic attacks brought on my stress. I feel like I just need a bit of time to rest.
My question is, would you look down on a PhD candidate if they had taken a gap year after their master's? Furthermore, would you want the PhD candidate to have used their time productively and, if so, how?
Croquembou · 09/11/2019 22:47
I'm always surprised when people bounce undergrad-PhD. Three of my last four employees have gone off to do their PhDs having taken a break to work for a while after their Masters - they've taken anywhere from 1-3 year breaks. My colleague also just started his PhD six years after finishing his MSc.
PhDs are emotionally challenging and I think it's really sensible to take a break and regather yourself. I also think it's generally understood that people need money to support themselves.
GCAcademic · 09/11/2019 22:47
It may depend on the subject, but in my field (arts /humanities) this wouldn’t register as an issue at all. Lots of PhD applicants are older. I’ve had around a dozen PhD students and only one of them hasn’t had time out between one or both of their previous degrees. Many come into postgraduate study after having had a previous career. Some are even retired. Applicants are also in a better position to apply for funding with the MA already in hand.
QueenRefusenik · 10/11/2019 11:39
I had years off between BA and MA and between MA and PhD and I think it really helped. Personally I'd prefer to see it in an applicant - rather than just passively following the default academic conveyer belt you've stepped off, looked around and made a positive decision to continue!
Pota2 · 10/11/2019 21:38
I don’t think anyone will care in the slightest. Why would they? Many many PhDs have had many years out of education and it doesn’t adversely affect them so one year wouldn’t make the slightest difference.
impostersyndrome · 10/11/2019 21:38
On the contrary, I’d see it a benefit: allowing you to write a considered research proposal, apply for funding, recharge your batteries, and indeed earn money. In fact, I prefer Masters candidates who’ve had a year of work in their field, rather than simply continuing onwards.
Igmum · 11/11/2019 21:44
Frankly I'd be unlikely to notice. I did my PhD in my 30s and have supervised students in their 40s, 50s and 60s. Go for it, relax, get healthy
Definitelyrandom · 12/11/2019 13:07
DS did a volunteering gap scheme between BA and MA. He then had a bit of a break after his pretty intense MA and really concentrated on his PhD applications - and particularly honing his funding applications. The students where he did his masters were advised not to apply for PhDs at what would effectively be near the start of their MAs - partly because their research interests would be likely to change, partly because they couldn't properly demonstrate their abilities to research at that stage (i.e. in terms of both results and references), partly because the application process is a distraction from the MA.
That was absolutely the right thing for him. I don't think anyone was particularly interested in what he had done in terms of work during the gap year (he did a lot of tutoring, cover supervising and teaching), but also took the time to keep reading up on his subject, do some academic networking and write things like book reviews.
Alaimo · 15/11/2019 00:57
As others have said, I doubt anyone will care. Also, I started a PhD straight after my MSc, but wished I had taken time off. I was lucky to find a Postdoc immediately after my PhD, but have spent much of it feeling burnt out, as I have not had a proper break in 7+ years (beyond the usual annual leave). I have met multiple other postdocs who feel the same, some quitting quite good positions because they need a break. So, definitely take a break when you can!
aidelmaidel · 15/11/2019 01:16
Professorial DH prefers students who've spent a year or two out of the academy; one, it gives people more exposure to real-world norms, but more, a lot of people do PhDs because they don't know what else to do, and they tend to burn out once they realise there's more to life than school.
Bluerussian · 15/11/2019 01:30
Very good idea to have a break, xrosie. No one will think anything of it at all. Good luck.
mindutopia · 15/11/2019 13:08
Not at all, actually professional experience between the two would be an advantage, I think. I mean, unless you were in prison or something, I can't see how it would be a negative.
I took probably 2 ish years between master's and PhD. I spent that time working for a research centre in my field and applying for PhD programmes (applied 3 years in a row, got rejected absolutely everywhere the first 2 years!) and then I moved abroad to work for a year as well. All that work experience was related to my field and my research interests. I think it gave me time to figure out what I wanted and how to sell myself. When I finally applied again, third year running, I targeted different programmes and with a much more confident angle, given my professional experiences. I got accepted everywhere that time and was able to choose a department that was a perfect fit for me.
I also had a fantastic time just having a break and travelling and working overseas, so all positives all around. Certainly, I don't necessarily advise my tutees now to go straight from one to the other unless they need to for some reason or have very good reasons to. I think it's good to have a break and explore your interests outside academia.
To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.